Tips for Safer Online Buying of Used Espresso Gear

Recommendations for buyers and upgraders from the site's members.
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drgary
Team HB

#1: Post by drgary »

Many H-B members buy their espresso gear in online markets and buy it used. Some of us like to collect vintage machines; others want to forego the costs of buying new. Buying online is risky and those risks have been discussed in many threads. This posting is written as a spin-off of the thread that was posted as a public service announcement by Doug Garrott of Orphan Espresso, warning members about a parts machine being offered online as something better than that. See: Bad Olympia Cremina on Ebay. At Dan Kehn's (HB) invitation and with Doug's encouragement and pointers, I've started this thread to summarize some of the risks in one place.

Many sellers misrepresent their offerings, but probably a larger number don't know what they're doing. There are many, of course, who offer quality items with integrity. But espresso gear capable of making great shots is specialized. And many sellers stumble upon this gear without knowing the first thing about what they've found. Maybe they've done a little online research to guesstimate value and have found enough descriptive information to pitch their wares. You'll often recognize this kind of seller by their use of creative terms like "presser" for lever or "foamer" for steam wand. They won't know how to test this gear, so it's hard to tell whether it's a "parts machine" or a well-serviced piece that needs a little clean-up. Some knowledgeable sellers pretend ignorance and try to con buyers into paying premium prices for tired old gear and items in disrepair. How can you assess what you're buying so you don't get taken? Here are some tips. Please recommend any I've missed.

Don't inflate the price!
- Avoid early bidding, which drives up the price
- Mentioning specific listed items here or on other coffee forums is free advertising

To Spot a Hustle, Beware of:
- Sellers who ignore your questions
- Sellers who refuse to show pictures from many angles, including inside the machine
- Misrepresentations and double talk, such as "the seals look good," but "I haven't tested it." If the machine hasn't been tested, for sure it hasn't been taken apart to look at the seals!
- "No Returns" listings
- Low seller feedback scores - but don't trust all high ratings either, especially if the seller's feedback is based on recent transactions, many low-cost sales, and mostly items other than espresso gear
- Sellers only partially testing the machine or testing it in a way that can damage it (turning it on without filling with water to see if it heats up)
- Shill bidding
- Sellers who end auctions early when offering an item with no reserve (no minimum acceptable purchase price)
- Buying outside the protective envelope. Craigslist and eBay both warn potential buyers to avoid offers to make a private deal, especially when depending on the seller to ship the item to you. If nothing arrives, you may be left with no options.
- Payment requests that stray outside options for recourse

Do your Homework
No matter what its reputation for build quality, all espresso machines can degrade from rust, scale, accidental damage, and so on.
- Review photos and descriptions of the equipment offered for sale and ask questions if needed
- Look for signs of poor maintenance in pictures or other signs of condition that contradict sellers' claims, like a machine described as lightly used but the chrome is worn off the steam wand
- Read reviews and threads about repairs and user experience
- Research street price
- Estimate possible costs of repair
- Consider parts availability and cost
- Look at actual buyer comments in the seller's feedback listings to make sure there isn't some pattern of not satisfying customers
- If buying from a participant in a coffee forum, make sure this is someone who has an established history and good reputation
- Make sure the seller knows how to properly ship a machine, or point them to good instructions and get their agreement to follow them, like these on the Orphan Espresso site: http://www.orphanespresso.com/PACKING-Y ... 550-1.html

Online Buyer Protections are Limited
Anyone who's done much buying on sites like eBay or Craigslist knows that buyer protections aren't robust, especially for used items and products beyond the manufacturer's warranty or purchased on the gray market. So buy carefully from these sites and read the fine print.

After issuing these many cautions, I'll add that I've bought most of my equipment used, online, and have always gotten my money's worth or more. I've benefitted from obtaining high quality gear at bargain prices. And I've enjoyed learning about vintage machines and displaying my growing collection on my countertop -- as much as the wonderful espresso drinks I'm able to create on this gear. I've also rolled up my sleeves and am salvaging some machines that were in pretty poor shape. But I went into those deals knowing that I wanted a learning project and was willing to spend the time it took for a quality restoration.

Have I missed anything? If so, please post your tips and share any horror stories so we can learn from your experience!
Gary
LMWDP#308

What I WOULD do for a good cup of coffee!

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Clint Orchuk

#2: Post by Clint Orchuk »

Kudos doc. As usual, a great job.

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TomC
Team HB

#3: Post by TomC »

Great idea, and a great write up that I agree with. But I'll play devils advocate on one point...

If someone here on the forum posts regarding a possible unit they want or are curious about, then more than likely more experienced eyes can and will likely examine the item for sale. Yes, those individuals in turn, can and may bid themselves, thus increasing the price. But aren't they justified or at least doing no harm by only increasing it to a fair market value if it's not junk to begin with?

Fake scenario to hopefully make my point.

Brand new poster to H-B/ C.G, asks "Hey I just saw this such and such device, it looks good; should I buy it? What should I be aware of/ worried about?"

Several members click on said link and find that it is a piece of junk that is misrepresented, and horribly marked up price wise.

Warnings not to buy it or concerns regarding it are made public.

In light of this, no one here bids on the thing, and the new member or shopper is better educated in the future.

Seller ( who may or may not be honest ) has a lesser pool of likely suckers to sell junk to.

Win-win.

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TomC
Team HB

#4: Post by TomC »

And I'll just add, I personally don't have a dog in any of these hunts. I couldn't fix any broken device and feel that my time/money and fear of being left with a dud, keep me from buying used equipment.

Now, if I had the good Dr's skills and workbench..... :)

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Psyd

#5: Post by Psyd »

TomC wrote:But aren't they justified or at least doing no harm by only increasing it to a fair market value if it's not junk to begin with?
Nope.
I have a nice li'l commercial two group, two Majors, and a handful of hand-grinders. None of which I would have if it weren't for finding the deal. If those that knew what these people here new were bidding, I'd be telling the story of the ones that got away.
I love that you look at the folk here as nice enough to live by 'first come first serve', but I think that there are a few more 'might makes right' and 'to the victor belong the spoils' folk than I'd care to think about. They absolutely do not make up the majority, but there are a few bad apples in every barrel.

When I sell my two group, I intend to include a certificate of inspection from my local professional espresso maintenance gurus, stating what they think it will require in replacement, repair, or maintenance (beyond user maintenance) in the next twelve months. I *know* that I'd taken spectacular car of my kit, and the next owner will know that before buying as well.
I guess what I'm trying to say is that if you recognise the seller from here, or CG, or Alt,coffee, etc, you may have a better feeling about it's condition.
Espresso Sniper
One Shot, One Kill

LMWDP #175

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yakster
Supporter ♡

#6: Post by yakster »

Great thread, thanks for stepping up, Gary.
Psyd wrote:I guess what I'm trying to say is that if you recognise the seller from here, or CG, or Alt,coffee, etc, you may have a better feeling about it's condition.
I would agree with this statement. I picked up both my La Peppina and Gaggia Factory lever used. The first was luck as I was taking the sellers word on eBay, but the pictures looked good and I ended up getting a complete La Peppina in good condition and have been very happy with it.

I picked up the Gaggia Factory from a seller on CoffeeGeek who was a regular member with lots of posts regarding the equipment that they used. It wasn't an auction, but rather first-come-first-served but the condition was like new and I was able to do a bit of research and felt comfortable jumping on it to buy myself an early birthday present this year. I've also been very happy with the Gaggia Factory but felt that luck played little part in this transaction.

I also bid on and won a vacuum coffee maker, but the transaction had to be cancelled because the seller broke the funnel when they were packing it. I'm glad that the seller was honest about this and didn't ship me a broken pot, they were upfront. I think this was also lucky even though I didn't get what I wanted, at least I didn't get taken.

I'll throw out a few tips for what they're worth.

1. I used to use the site http://toolhaus.org/ regularly to check out the feedback of sellers and do some investigative work before buying anything. This was before eBay revamped their feedback system and I don't think that you can get as much information anymore, but it's still worth a look, when eBay isn't blocking toolhaus.

2. To avoid inflating the price, you can use a proxy bidding system. I've used http://www.gixen.com which provides a very good free and paid proxy bidding system that will place a single bid for you just before the auction ends with the highest amount you are willing to pay. This avoids emotional entanglement of staring at the screen and deciding that your not going to let this one get away and bidding beyond your budget, but it also means that if someone else places a higher bid, often at the last second, you will not get the item. Gixen has a good user community and I've been a subscriber in the past to their mirror service, they even have features to allow you to set up to conditionally bid on multiple items and when you win one auction not bid on any further auctions for that item or only buy accessories if you win the main item that can be handy if you want just one glass filter rod at a certain price instead of five or only want to buy a knockbox if you win an auction for the espresso machine. Some of those features may require a subscription (I'd have to check to see which are premium features) and it's more applicable to standardized commodity items then vintage items, but it is a nice feature.

Proxy bidding systems can be the source of controversy, and many feel that using one is not fair. Personally, I can't always be at the computer when an auction is ending to place my last bid and like in poker where you don't show your hand until all the cards are dealt, I'd rather not flag how much I'm willing to pay early in the auction to allow those who get emotionally involved in the process to get carried away, but I consider that a proxy system allows you to really think about how much you really want to spend and set that up for your bid so that you can make rational buying decisions. YMMV.

3. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. I know that there are great deals out there, people who've found Cremina's being dumped on the street or sold for very little money, but by and large if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. This is probably true for low buy-it-now priced auctions for multiple with a seller with very little feedback.

4. Be safe. We've all heard stories of buyers meeting sellers for a Craigslist auction that went wrong. Treat these like a blind date and be safe.

Them's my two cents.

p.s. If anyone wants to post tips on buying Caravels and other imports from www.ebay.it, I'm all ears.
-Chris

LMWDP # 272

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drgary
Team HB

#7: Post by drgary »

TomC wrote:Now, if I had the good Dr's skills and workbench..... :)
Skills? Curiosity and chutzpah, maybe!

To your point, though. You could find others who have written threads about that machine or who are generally knowledgeable and PM them so you wouldn't freely advertise the product. If it's truly misrepresented and absurdly so, I don't see harm in posting about it, something I've been known to do ... :roll:
Gary
LMWDP#308

What I WOULD do for a good cup of coffee!

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uscfroadie

#8: Post by uscfroadie »

Doc,

One point that kind of falls inline with your excellent post is that users should do their homework and set a max price in their head before bidding, and if exceeded, fight the fight another day.

Case in point - I've seen people bid up Creminas on eBay that were fair to good machines in appearance (true condition unknown) to prices higher than I paid for a near pristine one fully restored from Orphan Espresso, and I'm talking about the same time frame, not years later where they are hitting all-time highs.

One more example, though not coffee related. I sold a slightly used bicycle helmet on eBay many years ago. It sold for nearly twice what some websites had as their discounted price; same exact helmet (size, color, and year). The second place bidder contacted me to say that if the original buyer backed out, he wanted it. I replied and told him I can do much better than that. I sent him the links to a few vendors that had exactly what he bid on in stock and ready for shipment but at a much lower cost than even his initial bid. He was thankful beyond words.
Merle

compliance

#9: Post by compliance »

The secrecy on auctions is overboard and silly. There is no lack of eyes on ebay. Thinking that you will get away with a deal there by keeping it quiet is naive.

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TomC
Team HB

#10: Post by TomC »

Psyd wrote:Nope.
I have a nice li'l commercial two group, two Majors, and a handful of hand-grinders. None of which I would have if it weren't for finding the deal. If those that knew what these people here new were bidding, I'd be telling the story of the ones that got away.
I love that you look at the folk here as nice enough to live by 'first come first serve', but I think that there are a few more 'might makes right' and 'to the victor belong the spoils' folk than I'd care to think about. They absolutely do not make up the majority, but there are a few bad apples in every barrel.

When I sell my two group, I intend to include a certificate of inspection from my local professional espresso maintenance gurus, stating what they think it will require in replacement, repair, or maintenance (beyond user maintenance) in the next twelve months. I *know* that I'd taken spectacular car of my kit, and the next owner will know that before buying as well.
I guess what I'm trying to say is that if you recognise the seller from here, or CG, or Alt,coffee, etc, you may have a better feeling about it's condition.

I'm up for a healthy debate. And I don't believe I'm being naive. I realize that there are plenty of those out there who will swoop in to snag what might have been a great deal for someone else. So, to the second point, mentioned below my last reply; yes, buyer beware, do your homework and you usually get what you pay for.

But the altruistic notion that just because questions and inquiries are made via PM versus an open post would infer that an item is less likely to be snagged up or a "deal" lost, is completely absurd. And I'm saying that, as a new member here, who's come to greatly admire the input of pretty much all of you guys ( and O/o) I wouldn't expect to be led astray by any of you just so someone can grab an unseen bargain. But if I did, well then, there's always another day another seller, and I'd be all the more enlightened, wouldn't I? But one thing for sure, I wouldn't be out a high amount of money for a piece of junk that is broke beyond reasonable repair.

The point of using snipping bids itself can be argued several ways as well. Sure it helps prevent emotional bidding by the person using it, but at the end of the auction, the highest bid wins, and if there's 75 people lined up to "snipe" that deal, the difference is nil.

Frankly, I'm a bit paranoid to even deal with eBay as a seller. The one and only time I tried to sell a very expensive, one-off custom knife, I had to deal with the winning bidder sending me a fraudulent bank check. Then, if I were lucky to have a honest paying customer, there's plenty of risk involved with delivery and claims of damaged goods, or an item not being properly represented, lost, etc... And eBay always sides with the buyer for the most part. But I'm getting off topic...